If the first notable thing about a film is the fact that it
has seven screenwriters, you know that you are in trouble and
are not going to enjoy the next ninety minutes.
If you're going to watch a computer-animated film and it's
not made by Pixar, then you know that you are in trouble and
are not going to enjoy the next ninety minutes.
If you're going to watch a Disney film and it's not made by
Pixar, then you know that you are in trouble and are not going
to enjoy the next ninety minutes.
All of which sums up how I felt going in to see Meet the
Robinsons, the latest offering from the House of Mouse and
its very first in-house feature to fully employ computer animation.
What is surprising is that the film gamely almost overcomes
these three handicaps — but ultimately, when a film's
best character is a mute, hyper-intelligent, spider-legged,
flight-capable bowler hat named Doris, not even having Pixar's
chief creative officer John Lasseter as your executive producer
is going to save your film.
What is really surprising is that I actually enjoyed
Meet the Robinsons despite its shortcomings. My partner
Louise and daughter Alex liked it a lot more, but neither of
them are grumpy old critics. What is even more surprising is
that I think Meet the Robinsons deserves a sequel, one
that could actually be a whole lot better.
A Hat with a Man
Meet the Robinsons is based on the children's book A
Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce. At its heart
is Lewis, all spectacles and spiky blond hair, a young orphan
and budding scientific genius. His brilliance and over-enthusiasm
have put off over a hundred prospective parents, but he desperately
wants a family, so Lewis invents a memory scanner in the hopes
that he can recall his mother. After the device wrecks his school
science fair, up pops the mysterious Wilbur, a clean-cut, Disneyfied
version of the Fifties bequiffed bad boy, driving a sleek, bubble-doomed,
befinned time machine. Wilbur has a warning: Watch out for Bowler
Hat Man. He wants Lewis' memory scanner and will do anything
to get it, including sabotaging it and the science fair.
After an argument the time machine gets damaged, and it can
only be repaired in the future and only by Lewis. Once there,
hero and viewer find themselves in a glorious new world of Gernsbackian
retro sci-fi, but neither have the time to take it in before
Lewis is hidden in Wilbur's family home. Meanwhile the Bowler
Hat Guy is doing his best to undermine Lewis' future.
From this setup the plot proceeds as expected. Lewis does meet
Wilbur's family, he does fix the time machine, he does realise
that there is more to life than pure science, and he does solve
Bowler Hat Guy's particular problems. All of which the viewer
will have worked out for himself roughly twenty minutes into
the film, because this is from the House of Mouse after all,
and "unpredictable" is not a word found in the Disney dictionary.
Despite a slow start and flagging slightly in the middle, once
it gets into its stride, Meet the Robinsons proceeds
almost frantically, with too much going on for its own good.
Things dart past the viewer too fast to take in, particularly
Wilbur's family, the Robinsons. We see only snapshots of this
madcap clan, a ridiculous state of affairs given the importance
of the family in the story. Indeed, an army of singing, swinging
frogs with real Rat Pack style get more meaningful screen time
than any member of the Robinsons. Hopefully a sequel could explore
the Robinson family more dutifully than Meet the Robinsons
If Meet the Robinsons has a star, it is not young Lewis.
Nor is it Bowler Hat Guy, the lanky moustachioed, moustache
twirling villain of the film. Voiced by the film's director,
Steve Anderson, Bowler Hat Guy has dreams worthy of an evil
genius, but his inadequacies will always thwart his efforts.
Bowler Hat Guy is rather the film's co-star and sidekick to
its star. The star is Doris, the brilliant bowler hat with the
mind and single eye of HAL 9000 and a T-1000 combined, who directs
her plans of future domination through Bowler Hat Guy.
No Toy Story
2001: A Space Odyssey and The Terminator are
two of the various films referenced by Meet the Robinsons,
mostly time-travel movies, though the most obvious is The
Matrix. Yet apart from the latter, they mostly whiz by too
fast to take in, which sabotages any attempt by the film to
satisfy its adult audience. Pixar know how to work its references,
and by their standards this is a cardinal sin.
All right, so Meet the Robinsons is no Pixar film, but
by their lofty standards this is no bad attempt. Certainly Meet
the Robinsons is far from unwatchable — if the eye
can keep up — and doubtless it will keep the kids happy.
Both its message and its plot are predictable, but looks great
in parts, it is also funny in places, and the graphics are better
than most other computer animated movies. For the more discerning
science fiction devotee, though, Meet the Robinsons is
worth the wait for it to appear on DVD.
In the meantime, it is a sure sign that Disney does not understand
this film nor know how to merchandise it. All three of us wanted
a plush Doris. Indeed, it would be really cool to have a spiderlegged
Doris to clip onto the top of your computer flat screen. But
our local Disney store had none. Heck, Doris gets Meet the
Robinsons an extra rating point all by her genius self.